Desperately seeking Snowden in Sheremetyevo: Fugitive eludes all at Moscow airport

by Kathy Lally and Will Englund

The Washington Post

Every year, around 25 million passengers enter Sheremetyevo airport — and usually they come out again. Not Edward Snowden. The guy who was made famous by spilling the beans about U.S. surveillance programs has managed to keep his own whereabouts strictly hush-hush.

Somehow he has made himself invisible for nearly 12 days in a 1½-km-long transit corridor that is dotted with six VIP lounges, a 66-room capsule hotel, assorted coffee shops, a Burger King and some 20 duty-free shops selling Jack Daniels, Cuban rum, shelves of Russian vodka and red caviar costing four times as much as it does in nearby Moscow.

Unless, that is, he is across the runway in private Terminal A, in the watchful company of Russian officials.

Everybody wants to find Snowden. Journalists want to interview him. The United States wants to prosecute him. And now Anna Chapman wants to marry him — “Snowden, will you marry me?!” @ChapmanAnna tweeted late Wednesday.

Being a spy herself — she is the alluring Russian redhead who was chucked out of the United States in 2010 along with nine other sleeper agents — the suspicious might wonder if it is what they call in the trade a honey trap, ensnaring targets by romantic relationship.

Thursday was a quiet day at Sheremetyevo, but a normal one with the packs of journalists tiring of the unrequited chase. Athletic teams from Mongolia and China made their way through the airport en route to university games in Kazan. Families with young children waited for flights to summer resorts.

Anastasia Shodieva was selling costume jewelry and stuffed animals at a souvenir stand near the Skoda car display where the journalists camped out last week. When asked about Snowden, she had to be prompted.

“Oh, that . . . sort-of agent?” she asked, adding the affair made no difference to her.

The United States wants Snowden on charges of theft and disclosing classified information in violation of the Espionage Act. Scores of journalists were waiting when his flight from Hong Kong landed in Terminal F on June 23. There was no sign of him.

Others filled seats on an Aeroflot flight to Havana — airport officials said Snowden had a ticket for June 24 — and flew off, snapping pictures of his empty seat.

The airport’s half-dozen buildings cover an area as big as 100 football fields, set off a traffic-clogged road 30 km from central Moscow. A transit zone, around 1½ km long, wends its way along the sides of Terminals D, E and F, which are connected by a walkway so arriving passengers can board a connecting international flight without having to pass through passport control and customs, which requires a visa.

Terminal D, the most modern part of the airport, has soaring ceilings and a men’s room with an age-old Russian smell to it. Tatyana Yudina, at the register of a traditional, lacquered-wood crafts souvenir stand, shrugged at the name Snowden.

Last week, journalists staked out a chain called Shokoladnitsa, hoping they would find Snowden drinking a $7 cappuccino. Nyet.

The capsule hotel rents tiny rooms for about $15 an hour, with a four-hour minimum. No one was spotted going in and out Thursday, and the clerk on duty frostily declared that she wasn’t allowed to talk with reporters.

Russians are a little bemused at all that fuss over surveillance. Many believe the authorities can read their mail at will, listen in to their calls and sprinkle bugs around as they please.

“Wiretapping is so common, so this is not news,” said Alina Gorchakova, a 48-year-old account manager who stopped to chat on a city street.

What doesn’t seem normal to many is why Snowden decided to reach Ecuador, his original destination, via Russia. Since he arrived at the airport, with his U.S. passport revoked, Ecuador has grown less enthusiastic. Russia says Snowden can go anywhere he likes, and that he only needs a destination and authorized travel documents.

So why doesn’t he go? Or show his face?

And Svetlana Chibisova, a 45-year-old tour agency manager, found it strange that an American carrying U.S. secrets would travel by way of Russia, where security agencies are very much in control.

“I don’t understand what he was thinking. Is he a little boy with no idea about the consequences?” she wondered.

Olga Prokopenko, 40, deputy director of a pharmaceutical company, said the Snowden affair sounded like a fairy tale.

“How long will he have to stay in the transit zone? What is he eating there and where does he sleep? Has anyone seen him at all? Strange,” she said.

“I really wish he could be in some other transit zone, because you never know what our authorities will do,” she added.

The television news often doesn’t add up, according to Yuri Artemiev, a 73-year-old retired aviation engineer.

“I don’t like this situation,” he said. “It looks like they wanted to get benefits from him being here and then something went wrong — as always.”

Snowden has become something of a ghost, said Igor Pavlenko, a 37-year-old sales manager.

“I am not at all sure that we are being told everything,” he said. “For example, as far as I know he is in Sheremetyevo now. OK, but maybe this is just one version. Have they shown us video or pictures of him in Sheremetyevo? No!”